Italian Charms

Copyright © 2006 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in January 2006, Volume 31, No. 7 of The Engravers Journal

 

 

Figure 1: Today’s updated Italian charm bracelets are sleek and contemporary and an exciting
new trend.
  Figure 2: Italian charms without a sublimation receptive coating are also available for laser engraving using CerMark.

     Remember charm bracelets? I do. My wife collected hundreds of charms for her two bracelets containing everything from school mascots to hobby items to souvenirs of places she’s visited. They are family treasures although she can’t really wear them anywhere because they make so much noise and they weigh in at just less than one pound!
     Well, there’s a new type of “charm” bracelet and the ladies love them. They’re called “Italian Charms” and they are extremely popular in the United States. If you aren’t familiar with them, just ask any woman. Chances are, if they don’t already have a bracelet made of Italian charms they would like to have one.
     In short, these bracelets are made up of links that interlock to make up the bracelet (Fig. 1). They usually have a silver finish and some type of image imprinted or affixed onto each link. These images include anything from wedding bells to baseballs. If you can think of it, chances are, you can buy it.
     Most of the “charms” I’ve seen are silver colored with a black image laser engraved using a thermal chemical such as CerMark. These charms are readily available and fairly easy to engrave. What’s new is the ability to use sublimation to imprint full color clip art, text or even photographs onto the charms. These sublimated charms make wonderful gift items and keepsakes. Everything from the American flag to a wedding picture can be imprinted on them and the profit margins are, well, let me say, they are my kind of margins. With a blank charm costing as little as $1 and selling for anything from $10 to $20 each, it shouldn’t be difficult to see this is not something to pass over.
     Recently I took a look at the Zymages line of Italian charms, which are distributed by Johnson Plastics and also Nova Chrome. This line of charms comes in both sublimatable and laser engravable configurations and in several different sizes, finishes and color combinations.
     I only mention this because there are other sublimatable and laserable Italian charms on the market, available from various suppliers. And while virtually all Italian charms are physically interchangeable, they may differ somewhat in appearance, metal content or overall quality.
     Part of what makes the Zymages line really neat is the line of support products and marketing aids that come with the Starter Kit package. It’s not just some inventory in a box—it’s more like unpacking a new business venture.

 
Figure 2: The Sublimatable Italian Charm Starter Kit Package is a quick and easy way to get you up and running with this hot ticket item. The kit includes: a Multi-Charm Jig, Charm Jig Support Sheet, Sponge Rubber Heat Transfer Sheet, a CD with Templates and Sample Designs, a Charm Assembly Tool, a Printed Sample of a Sublimated Charm, Matte Silver finish 9mm Charms (20), White 9mm Charms (5), Matte Silver finish 9mm Super Charms (3), Matte Silver finish 9mm Charms (56).
   

Figure 3: The tool supplied with the Kit helps open the charms. After you learn how they are made, you usually won’t really need the tool, but it’s nice to have.

 

 


First Impressions
     When the $109 starter kit (with occasional promotional specials at $99) arrived from Johnson Plastics, I have to admit, I was most impressed (Fig. 2). Not that it’s anything super fancy but it’s well packaged with everything one needs to get started all in one small box. Someone gave this considerable thought and it shows.
What You’ll Find
     A Multi-Charm Jig: This is a laser cut sheet of medium density fiberboard (MDF) that allows you easy alignment for the standard sized charms so they can be printed at once (a real time saver) or for a couple of the extra large sized charms. Trying to imprint these charms without the jig would be a nightmare, but with the jig, it’s a piece of cake. When fully loaded, the jig can print as many as two-dozen charms at once. This makes the almost two minute press time fall down to only a few seconds each.
     A Charm Jig Support Sheet: This sheet of MDF material helps to insure that the charms seat properly in the jig.
     A Sponge Rubber Heat Transfer Sheet: This green rubber pad helps to insure a more even transfer of the image. This material is very expensive so take good care of it.
     A CD with Templates and Sample Designs: Your new CD will be discussed in detail later and will help you get up and running with a sign announcing the new product line and shows samples and all of the templates you need. As a part of the CD, there are hundreds of designs ready to use. I turned them into a catalog to show customers. Although there are some things that can be done to improve the usability of the CD, it’s a small goldmine and is very well done.
     A Charm Assembly Tool: Although I had no trouble opening charms and assembling bracelets without the special tool (Fig. 3), I’m sure many people will appreciate this helping hand. Once you know the secret of how they go together, assembly and disassembly is a piece of cake.
     A Printed Sample of a Sublimated Charm: The printed sample I received was of an American Flag on a silver finish charm. This was most helpful since I could practice until I got the same quality as the manufacturer. In this way, I knew I was “doing it just right.”

 

 

 
Figure 4: Don’t just print out the catalog and design sheets, place them in a binder and use them as a sales tool. You’ll be surprised how much interest they stir.   Figure 5: The art for this sign comes on the “Sign and Catalog” CD. Print it on white metal or FRP and put it to work in your showroom.

     Matte Silver finish 9mm Charms (20): The 9mm size charm is considered standard. The silver colored charms work best when used with text or clip art, but can also be used for photographs.
     White 9mm Charms (5): Charms with a white coating are best used for photographs but can be used for other things as well. The white background helps to bring out detail in photographs, family crests or logos and helps maintain color accuracy.
     Matte Silver finish 9mm Super Charms (3): Super charms are used in conjunction with other 9mm charms or are used to make a bracelet of their own. The super charms are the same width as the standard 9mm charms but are twice as long, offering a great deal more space for multiple or extra long images.
     Matte Silver finish 9mm Charms (56): These charms can be used as blanks, fillers or can be laser engraved using a chemical like CerMark.
     There are a couple of products that aren’t included in the sample kit you should know about. One is an 18mm charm in a silver or white finish that can take two 9mm bracelets and combine them into one. The other is a 9mm charm that has a silver or white finish link (center) with gold colored edges. This charm makes a very handsome bracelet and you may want to order in some samples of each.
     A word of warning about all charms: Once the charms are removed from their plastic sleeves, it’s sometimes very difficult to identify which ones are coated for sublimation and which ones aren’t. Coated charms will not laser engrave and uncoated charms cannot be sublimated, so take care they don’t get mixed up.
Let’s Get Started
     When you first begin, expect to be a little intimidated by all of the parts, the CD, etc. I was, but the fear was unfounded for I quickly felt at home working with the various parts. On the CD you’ll find the instruction sheet. To retrieve it, just load the CD, click on “My Computer” and double click on the PDF file titled, “Charm Printing & Instructions.” Although you can read this on the computer, I suggest you print it. You’ll need to refer to it several times. I put mine in a 3-ring binder (Fig. 4) along with the other materials I printed from the CD so I could refer to them easily and show them to clients without the aid of a computer.
     If you don’t have the ability to read PDF files, you can download a copy of the Adobe PDF reader from the Internet free (www.adobe.com, get Adobe Reader). Although the free version is limited and doesn’t allow editing of data, it’s adequate for this application.

 
  Figure 6: When you open the template in CorelDRAW, it will look like this. The art matches the jig so you can easily do an entire page of charm designs at one time.  
     When you insert the CD, you’ll see it contains seven items. Each one is helpful and some are vital so let’s take a closer look. On the CD, besides the instructions, there is also a video showing how to assemble and disassemble the bracelets. This is called, “Charm Assembly.” There is also a PDF file marked, “General Charm, Sign & Flyers.” This PDF file is intended to help with marketing your new product line. It contains a 4.25" x 5.5" design that can be sublimated as a sign on white metal (Fig. 5) or printed on 81/2" x 11" paper and used as promotional flyers.
     On the CD is a folder containing the templates (Fig. 6) for use with the jig. The templates included are in Corel format so you’ll need a copy of Corel 9 or higher to access and work with these files. Once you’ve opened them in CorelDRAW however, you can export them into other programs if you so desire. We’ll talk more about these templates as you become familiar with how it all works.
     The designs are broken down into two folders. One is marked “Charm Catalog” and the other “Designs.” You’ll want to print both of these so you and your clients can see all of the available designs without creating “custom design work.” The instruction sheet you printed earlier takes you through how to make your own designs or use photographs. It’s surprisingly easy but it’s custom work and therefore, here’s where you can add an “art” charge.
     Needless to say, the designs in your catalog or design pages can be easily copied or imported into your graphics program and used to make charms. As you’ll notice, keeping designs simple and uncluttered seems to look best. Text should be kept as large as possible for readability and any design can be printed with or without a background color. If you load your catalog and design sheets on the hard drive of your computer, it’s very easy to add additional designs and print them out for use in your catalog. The manufacturer has left plenty of room for new designs.
     The third folder on your CD is marked “Images” and contains some of the pictures used in this article. These can be used in your advertising or used to illustrate how to make the charms when teaching employees and others.
     The cost of making a sublimated charm will depend on the charm itself, but in the case of a “standard” 9mm charm, the cost will be about $1 for the charm and perhaps a penny or two for ink and 15¢ for paper. The paper cost can be virtually eliminated by printing multiple charms on the same page. At least 100 charms could be easily printed on a single sheet of transfer paper making the cost for paper nearly zero. Retail price for the charms should never be less than about $10 but charms of far lesser quality are often sold for $20 or more. A single custom charm with a photograph should probably sell for $15 to $20 or more. This leaves lots of room for quantity discounts or even wholesaling to other resellers.
 
Figure 7: As you can see, the CD contains the template in seven different formats so no matter what graphics program you like to use, you’ll have what you need.  

Where To Sell Them
     There’s a huge market for Italian Charms. They’re commonly sold in single units and mixed with charms from other sources. Rarely will you sell an entire bracelet. Individual charms are popular for weddings, graduations, the birth of a baby, for religious symbols, college or high school logos and mascots, family crests, for holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Fourth of July, state flags, American flags, military or fraternal organization crests, to denote hobbies such as sewing, swimming, tennis or special interests such as birds, pets, wild animals, nature or professions such as health care, computers, cooking, drama, zodiac symbols, vacation locations or images just for fun. As you can see, the list is endless. Most any clip art package including CorelDRAW, ClickArt, Hemera, etc. can be used to offer millions of possibilities.
     With this long list in mind, anyplace that sells jewelry, keepsakes, or attracts tourists is a prime market. Likewise, consider anyone involved in school, alumni associations, or class reunions a hot market. The Internet is, of course, a good way to sell, including eBay. Any group that wants to raise money as a fundraiser might have a custom charm made for resale, such as churches, nursing schools and hospital gift shops. Don’t forget shops that cater to baby or children’s clothing. One man reported he was selling them through his engraving shop for $20 each and couldn’t make them fast enough! That may not hold true for everyone, but if you can put these in a place where there’s heavy foot traffic, they will sell—to both men and women not to mention teens.
     Remember, every man who’s dating or married is always looking for something to commemorate his love, especially around the holidays, Mother’s Day, anniversaries, etc. What could be better than a charm with the couple’s picture on it?


 
Figure 8: Once you have selected the graphic(s) you want, just import them into the same file as the template, adjust them for size and place them in the template outlines.   Figure 9: When you’re satisfied with the designs, send the job to the printer.

A Vital Add-On
     One item that doesn’t come as a part of the Sample Kit that should be ordered is a second CD referred to as the “Sign and Catalog” disk. The disk is only about $15 and contains two files. They are:
     1. The design for a display sign. This is the same design as on the disk that came with the Sample Kit but this design is in CorelDRAW format and can be easily changed to include your company name and phone number or you can alter the sample designs to include ones that will sell best in your community. Its size can also be altered so it can be used for almost any size sign or promotional flyer.
     2. The second file is the Catalog. This is an additional collection of designs—hundreds of them. All high resolution and ready to print either on charms or other products you might offer. Just print out the file, place it in a binder along with the file that came with your Sample Kit and you have a ready made sales tool. Additional designs can easily be inserted into the file as well, so as you create new designs, such as school logos, you can show them as part of your catalog. Of course, you’ll have to save the new file on your hard drive since you can’t write to the original CD.
     In any event, this extra CD is a “must have” so you might as well order it when you order your Sample Kit. While you’re at it, be sure to include a stick of five of the extra large 18mm charms that allow your customers to combine two bracelets into one. The ladies around my house went crazy over this option.

 
Figure 10: Using the red outline on the printout, align your transfer to the bottom of the jig. You can print up to five charms at once.   Figure 11: Insert the desired number of charms in the jig.

How to Make Them
     Printing a charm is simple and the instructions that come with the Sample Kit are easy to follow; I’ll just provide you with an overview of how it’s done:
     1. Using a graphics program, open a copy of the template that will work best for you. Templates are provided in CorelDRAW format, PDF format, EPS, Adobe, Illustrator, MS Paper, and WMF, so no matter what program you like to use, one of these formats should work (Fig. 7).
     2. Create or locate the design or photograph you want to print on the charm and import it into the same page as the template. You’ll need to locate the proper size template for the charm you want to make since the template page contains outlines for all of the different size charms (Fig. 8). Because the template was created so that most of it doesn’t print and can’t be altered easily you’ll be able to place your images directly in the template. This will help to insure you have a proper fit and placement location with little concern about messing up the template or having it ruin your job by printing things exactly where you want them. Using PowerClip works here and the instructions recommend it, but if you’re using a program that doesn’t have the PowerClip feature, it isn’t absolutely necessary.
     3. Once one or more designs have been imported and placed in the template, just send the job to your sublimation printer (Fig. 9). Depending on what ink or program you’re using, you may need to mirror the image so it prints out in reverse.
     4. Once the transfer has printed, cut out the section containing the template guide and attach it to the top of the jig with heat tape. This is easy to do just by sighting through the opening in the jig until the transfer is properly aligned (Fig. 10).
     5. Next, insert the charm(s) in the slot so the face of the charm is against the transfer. To hold it in place, lay the base (a small piece of MDF material that comes in the kit) against the jig and place it in the heat press with the transfer facing up against the heating element (Fig. 11).
     6. Now cover the transfer with the green rubber pad that’s supplied in the kit and then cover that with a sheet of plain white paper (Fig. 12).
     7. Press as directed. When finished, allow the jig to cool in the press until it’s safe to handle! Once cool, remove the jig, charms and transfer from the press (Fig. 13). Your charm is ready to go to the customer.

 
Figure 12: Flip the jig over so the transfer is on top, place it in the heat press and cover it with the green heat pad provided in the Sample Kit and a sheet of white paper and press.   Figure 13 : After pressing, allow the jig and charms to cool. Then remove the transfer and finished charms.

Suggestions for Making the Package Even Better
     I have a couple of suggestions to help make the CD and the software even better. Although it was nicely done, there were some things in my opinion that could be done better.
Those include
     The folder containing the Design Catalog found on the optional “Sign & Catalog” CD is huge (over 62 megabytes). Loading this file into CorelDRAW took a long time, even with a very powerful computer. I might suggest that the file be broken down into sections to make for faster loading.
     Not only did the file take a long time to load, it took a very long time to process for printing. In fact, even with a very powerful computer, I found it best to print the catalog a few pages at a time rather that sending all 62+ megs at one time.
     One irritation came when loading both the catalog and the design pages. The fonts used were not included on the CD. This created a long list of fonts that had to be searched out and loaded in order to see the designs as they were intended. Since CorelDRAW is famous for changing the names of fonts to avoid paying royalties, a single font may appear under several different names from one version to another. This means that if you work with a version other than the one the creator used, you probably don’t even have the same fonts called by the same name. This problem can be easily solved by including all the fonts used in the artwork on the CD.
     When the design sheets and catalog were designed, the creators made full use of each sheet of paper. Unfortunately, many inkjet printers will not print the bottom 1/2" on a letter size page which cuts off about a half line of text from these pages. This can be remedied by opening the file and moving the images up slightly on the page before printing or capturing the entire page and reducing the size slightly.
     Almost everything we print in the sublimation world is done at 400° F. The manufacturer of this product recommends 430° F. This isn’t a big deal if you have a digital press and if you remember to change the temperature before and after pressing, but for the thousands who don’t have a digital press or have early signs of memory loss (like me), it can be a bit pesky. I found that a print of equal quality could be achieved at 400° F, if the time was extended from the recommended 1 minute 55 seconds to 2 minutes 30 seconds.
     For those who have laser engravers, don’t forget about the option of using CerMark (Fig. 14) and offering laser engraved charms as well. These work very well with logos, family crests and text. They take a bit of doing to set up correctly since there isn’t a jig for laser work but it certainly isn’t hard. Just draw a box in red the size of the charm, place your black image inside the box and tell the laser to engrave only the black.

Figure 14: Uncoated charms can be used to make laser engraved charms by spraying them with CerMark.  

Conclusion
     I love this product. For anyone who has the right kind of traffic (and that includes just about anyone), this has to be a moneymaker. They’re easy to make, only take a few minutes and don’t require anything other than the Sample Kit to get you up and running.

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